Archaea are a frontier in microbiology in their unique cell biologies, existing as a median between the Eukaryotic and Bacterial branches on the tree of life. Their placement on the current phylogenetic tree sharing a proximal ancestor to eukaryotes makes the archaeal domain an exemplary one to study when attempting to unravel the story of eukaryogenesis. One such eukaryotic feature of interest is meiosis- involving the fusion of cells and whole chromosome alignment and recombination to form unique daughter cells; a process that happens during gametic fusion and the formation of a zygote in humans, animals, plants, and other eukaryotes that undergo sexual reproduction. The evolutionary origins of this trait remain lost in the annals of life’s history, but my project seeks to bring to light a current lead using the closest related genetically tractable archaeal genus Sulfolobus. We have reason to believe that a similar or possibly precursory process is occurring during the cell cycle of our lab’s model organism S. islandicus, and I am using a mixture of genetic and live imaging techniques to better understand the physiological components that may change the way we think about meiosis as an exclusively eukaryotic trait or expand upon our knowledge of novel mechanisms for DNA recombination.
Advisor: Rachel Whitaker